Cherokee Heritage Itinerary -- Stop 6 Junaluska Memorial
Backtrack, and make a left on 28. You’ll soon reach Route 143. Make a left on 143, and follow that road into Robbinsville.
In Robbinsville you can visit the Junaluska Memorial, at the burial site of one of the most important figures in North Carolina’s Cherokee history. Junaluska was born in 1776 near Dillard, Georgia, just below the present North Carolina – Georgia state line, and spent part of his life here at Cheoah (present-day Robbinsville). The Snowbird area today is one of the major Cherokee population centers outside the Qualla Boundary, a place where old traditions thrive and the Cherokee language is still widely spoken.
Junaluska and other members of the Cherokee fought with whites against the Creek nation in the Creek War of 1812 - 1814. The story is told in Cherokee oral history that during the battle of Horse Shoe Bend in Alabama, in 1811, Junaluska saved future president Andrew Jackson’s life. Junaluska lived to regret his act of heroism.
In 1830, President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act, which led to the Treaty of New Echota, in 1835, paving the way for the forced removal of the Cherokee people to Oklahoma. Junaluska traveled to Washington and had a personal audience with Jackson, pleading the case of his people, and tradition says that Jackson peremptorily dismissed the man to whom he owed his life. Three years later, during the Van Buren presidency, Junaluska and about 13,000 other Cherokees (of whom about 3,000 were from North Carolina) were forced to travel the thousand miles to Oklahoma. Junaluska, having been arrested after leading an escape from the trail in Tennessee, was sent west in manacles and leg irons. An estimated 4,000 Cherokees died during the removal and on the Trail of Tears.
Junaluska passed a couple of years in Oklahoma, before riding home to North Carolina in 1841 – a journey on horseback of seventeen days. According to Cherokee legend, he was heard to lament, “If I had known what Andrew Jackson would do to the Cherokees, I would have killed him myself that day at Horse Shoe Bend.” He eventually received some of the respect that was due him from the state of North Carolina, which in 1851 gave him 337 acres of land in Cherokee County, where he died in 1858. Many of his descendants live in western North Carolina today.
The graves of Junaluska and his third wife, Nicie, are marked with a monument commissioned by the Daughters of the American Revolution in 1910. There are also several granite markers here, which tell the story of his life. Just down the hill is the Junaluska Museum. Operated by the Friends of Junaluska, the museum features ancient artifacts from this Cheoah Valley, as well as modern artwork by local Cherokee artists and more information about the hero of the Snowbird community. A trail on the grounds of the memorial features many of the medicinal plants that play important roles in traditional Cherokee medicine.
The Junaluska Memorial and Museum is on Main Street in Robbinsville, north of downtown, about a half-mile from the courthouse. It is open Monday through Saturday from 9:00 to 4:00. Call (828) 479-4727 for more information.
Photo: Junaluska's gravesite; photo by Roger Haile.
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